Hal Robinson, owner of Rye Deli in Springfield, is usually hustling to make sure he keeps up with his steady roster of catering clients. Orders can include sandwiches for school lunches, chicken marsala for a synagogue fund-raiser, or trays of food for a family sitting shiva. Now he’s simply looking to keep his eatery running.
In across the state, chairs are stacked on tables or removed entirely as social separation prohibits dining in. This drastic change hits kosher businesses especially hard as there’s a mark-up in the cost of products and additional fees for kosher supervision. Even with the uptick in take-out and delivery options, kosher restaurants — many of whom rely on catering — are suffering.
“I am just hoping we get through this,” Robinson, who opened his deli, which is under the supervision of the Vaad Harabonim of MetroWest, in October 2016, told NJJN in a telephone interview.
“Someday, we’ll be back to normal, but who knows when?” he said. “We’re just trying to hang in right now.”
Robinson, whose business is faring better than eight others NJJN contacted, said he’s hoping Congress’ stimulus package will help small business owners.
“We could, like all others in our business, really use some help at this point,” he said. The bills, which passed in the Senate, and were expected to be approved in the House March 27, include $350 billion for forgivable loans of up to $10 million to small businesses.
“I would certainly welcome some help from the government, but I would prefer not to go into a lot of debt over it,” said Michael Kornblum, owner of Sushiana in Highland Park. Kornblum opened his sushi restaurant in 2012 and is under the supervision of Vaad Harabonim of Raritan Valley.
He told NJJN his business, which is now limited to takeout, has dropped 50 percent. “We’re certainly hurting,” he said.
As with his fellow restaurateurs, he’s had to cut both hours and staff, but he’s trying to be creative in his marketing, such as expanding their social media efforts to promote the restaurant’s specials.
“We have put all our specials on our Facebook page and are featuring some items, like our Bento Box, all day instead of just part of the day,” he said. “I just hope we can get back to normal soon.”
Jerusalem Restaurant in Livingston is a pizza store that also serves sushi, Mediterranean foods, fish, and more. Owner David Matthew said his business will remain open until the Passover holiday despite what he called “a deep drop” in business due to the Covid-19 situation.
“The community supports us, and we are a staple in it,” Matthew said. “We want people who need our kosher food to be able to eat.” The restaurant, with a large seating area, is open for delivery or take-out only.
These times are also challenging for Sam Eriske, who opened Bridge Turkish & Mediterranean Grill in Highland Park early in 2015. He said his facility, which came under the supervision of the Vaad Harabbonim of Raritan Valley in 2019, was doing quite well until the Covid-19 pandemic and the social separation procedures that came with it.
“Our business dropped 90 percent,” Eriske told NJJN. “We have done a little takeout, but we’re not even meeting our expenses, which are $2,000 a day. We are trying to keep going, but it’s not easy.”
Eriske’s menu, which includes a variety of kabobs and grilled meats, normally attracts a consistent group of in-house diners. “We can’t do that with our customers right now,” he said. “It’s not easy. We really could use some help like the government is talking about. Currently, we are continuing, but losing $2,000 a day for a month in this situation is $600,000.”
Giddy’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, owned by partners Gideon Fentin and Lawrence Margolin, is in its sixth year of operation in East Brunswick. It is also under the supervision of the Vaad Harabbonim of Raritan Valley, and Covid-19 has put a crimp in this eatery’s business as well.
“We’ve had a major drop like everyone else,” Fentin told NJJN. “Every restaurant is affected, but kosher restaurants even more because they rely so much on catering. We lost our catering revenue and a lot of our school lunch business. Some of the families are still ordering, but it’s a lot less.”
Fentin and his staff, including manager Dani Davis, have come up with a novel fund-raiser to generate community goodwill: They’re accepting monetary donations to provide food for medical staff and first responders.
The donations cover the cost of ingredients for the fresh meals they deliver to Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, “and those healthcare professionals know they are getting food,” said Fentin. “It’s a win-win.”